Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

March 19, 2013

Avon looks at changes to its sign ordinance

Wade Coggeshall

AVON — The town council here is asking its plan commission to better define “living signs” in its zoning ordinance.

Specifically they want the plan commission to recommend whether people dressed as mascots who are advertising for a business should be permitted or excluded and whether they can hold signs while doing so. They also want to define spinning or moving signs and whether that should be allowed.

The discussion, which occurred during last Thursday’s town council meeting, stems from Liberty Tax suing the town over the denial of a variance they filed with the Avon Board of Zoning Appeals to use “wavers” as advertising.

The company uses people dressed as Uncle Sam or the Statue of Liberty outside their franchises to draw customers. Last tax season Victor Ruthig, who owns two Liberty Tax branches in Avon, says town officials threatened to fine him unless he stopped using his mascots. The variance he filed with the BZA sought permission to use wavers at a new location. The board recommended denial of the request in October based on safety concerns.

“I have no problem with someone (being a sign) on a sidewalk in front of their business, but I do have a problem with them being on the side of the road,” said Michael Rogers, president of the town council. “We’ve taken our position that it’s all about public safety.”

Avon’s current definition of signs in its zoning ordinance doesn’t mention costumes or mascots, though it has been interpreted consistently to include people in costumes over the years.

“That’s one of the issues Liberty Tax has raised,” said Dan Taylor, Avon’s legal counsel. “They believe reasonable people may disagree whether that’s a sign at all.”

He suggested sub-definitions could be added to the ordinance to include ones for mascots and people in costume. Then it could be determined whether they’re prohibited or permitted, with possible exceptions.

“Once you change the definition, you have to address how that definition fits into your prohibited sign list, your exceptions, or how in this particular case it could be treated as a temporary sign,” Taylor said. “But it needs to be addressed comprehensively if you change the definition.”